It’s important to focus the discussion at this point. A vote is coming up, and more than 100,000 people will have to live with its results.

It has been painful reading some of the comments on this blog. The level of distrust in some schools–distrust of principals, of the union, of the administration, of parents, students, everyone–is overwhelming. No one reading these comments could help but feel for the writers, and wish they were given more respect, even if they sometimes come across as complaining or hostile.

But a contract cannot fix everything. Ultimately, a contract is a piece of paper. Schools are run by people. A contract cannot cover every eventuality. You wouldn’t want it to. Sometimes problems can and should be solved by the individuals in each school.

Knowing that a contract cannot fix everything:

1. Will you work for the salary?
2. Can you keep these hours? Will your health and well-being be protected?
3. Do you believe your job is reasonably ensured against capricious action or political retaliation?
4. Do you believe you could get a better deal right now?
5. Do the most difficult situations in your school–whether it be extreme micromanagment by the principal or unfair treatment of another sort–have some remedy in this contract?
6. Given the conditions, can students learn from you?

Overall, will you be better off or worse off under this contract? If you think you might be worse off, is it the contract or is it possible violations of the contract? And if it is violations you most fear, are there reasonable protections?

Nuts and bolts questions like these go into each person’s decision on whether to vote yes or no.

But there is one “intangible” that’s worth asking: what does this contract do, if anything, to change the miserable climate in the schools? Here I must admit my bias–I think it helps. In fact, it may be the contract’s most singular strength, for three reasons.
1. The contract lasts over four years–it buys peace until 2007, a year past the time all other union contracts are up.
2. It forced them to blink, at last. Kleinberg didn’t get his 8-page contract and he got an amazing show of resolve from teachers, parents and the whole city. That little phrase about micromanagement is an admission that they have been mismanaging the schools.
3. Finally, the lead teacher innovation, and the modifications in seniority and Circular 6 are all changes in which teachers now take on more responsibility for the school, not just for their classrooms. This is an opportunity to create (or restore) a working climate of trust in schools, or at least take a stab at it. No contract can assure respect, but this one may be able to set conditions towards it.
My personal view is that’s worth trying.

Everyone has to make up his or her own mind, though. It’s in your hands. How does this balance out? How will you vote?